Mum shares traumatic experience of C-section without anaesthesia

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

WARNING: Some readers may find the content in this article distressing

A mother has shared her incredibly traumatic and painful birth story after she had a C-section without an anaesthetic. 

Rachel Somerstein, a professor of journalism from New York, has revealed the 'barbaric torture' she experienced after undergoing major abdominal surgery with a failed spinal block. 

"I perched on the edge of the bed, my back hunched, as the anaesthesiologist sought to insert the spinal block," she writes in a 3,000 word essay for Longreads. "He struggled to get it in the right place. He asked me to shift positions, to hunch my back more. Contractions waved down. My body was still trying to push out the baby."

Unfortunately, the spinal block had been inserted too low. Worse still, her obstetrician continued cutting through Somerstein's screams of agony - "separating the rectus muscles, entering the peritoneum, exposing the bladder" - and shockingly, she felt the entire operation.

"I remember my legs kicking as if to run off of the gurney," she writes. "My body - as autonomously as if it were struggling for breath - was trying to escape."

As a result of the botched operation, mistreatment and horrific pain, Somerstein struggled to bond with her baby girl. 

"My skin felt as if it had electricity inside and I didn't want to touch her, or anyone. I did not want to see anyone either." 

When the doula showed Somerstein her baby for the first time, the mother had trouble even looking at her.

"No, no, no, I don't want to see her. I can't see her. Take her away!" she recalls saying to her doula. 


"And can you imagine if she reads this? If she learns that at her most vulnerable, her first hours on the planet, I sent her away?

The 37-year-old goes on to explain that days later the anaesthesiologist apologised saying it was "the worst mistake he'd ever made, his face ashen."

"I told him, "I won't sue you," writes Somerstein. "And I didn't. Partly because I didn't want to; I held responsible the OB who didn't listen to me, who continued to cut me through my screams."

In the essay, the journalist writes that while some friends couldn't bear to hear what happened, others wanted her to repeat it, the voyeuristic part of them unable to resist. 

"All I wanted was to sit in a rocking chair and cry," she writes. "Eventually I stopped speaking of it at all." 

Somerstein explains that the C-section was suggested after she was in labor for 24 hours and wasn't progressing. However, even before this happened, the anaesthesiologist had to 'up her epidural medication three times' before it finally worked.  Despite the pain, Somerstein's cervix was not dilating much. 

"It would turn out the baby's feet were tangled up in her umbilical cord, and that her head was cocked to the side," she writes.

Somerstein also says she never filed a lawsuit because she had difficulty finding legal representation. 

'One mused, 'How long was it? Five minutes?' asking about the C-section's duration. 'You're healthy, your daughter's healthy. What are you so upset about?' 

She gave up looking for an attorney right before the statute of limitations for obstetric-related malpractice cases had run out, which in New York state is two-and-a-half years.

Somerstein's daughter is now almost four and while she says her feelings of grief are sill alive and she still feels "damaged", she is working hard to "change the narrative from the way it began".

After posting the essay to Twitter, Somerstein clearly struck a chord: 

 - "I can't even begin to imagine the pain you endured...reading this alone was infuriating and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing your experience."

- "So sorry that happened. I had different circumstances, but a similar story of being ignored, not bonding, not understanding how people think you're ok when you're not. Mine is 3.5 too. Just wanted to say you're not alone. Hope you are doing alright."